“Every man is a suffering machine and a happiness machine combined. The two functions work together harmoniously, with a fine and delicate precision, on the give-and-take principle.”
— Mark Twain, “The Mysterious Stranger.”
The question of “happiness” or “subjective well-being” is fraught with conceptual differences with debatable strengths and weaknesses. It is reasonable to suggest that for an individual it is a combination of the broadest measures of the country in which a person lives, combined with what determines an individual’s state of pleasure or displeasure with their circumstances.
The science in measuring is evolving in both cases, but is worth considering to get a sense of how you or others are faring. What follows is a window into the subject, nothing more.
Country “Happiness” Ratings
Country happiness ratings have been developed using statistical analysis. Since 2002 the United Nations has produced a “World Happiness Report” based on researchers analyzing comprehensive Gallup polling data in six categories, namely gross domestic product per capita, social support, healthy life expectancy, freedom to make life choices, generosity of the general population, perceptions of internal and external corruption levels.
The methodology to compare country data was based on creating a fictional country, “Dystopia,” making it “the world’s least happy people,” and then measuring its value set against real-world countries.
In 2021 the top seven “happiest” countries in the world were all Northern European countries. Finland was number one, for over six years, with an overall score of 7.842. It should be noted that this country has the highest estimated incidence of mental disorders in the European Union.
Further, Finland places 9th worldwide among countries with the highest depression rates.
Note that Bhutan, an outlier with a unique life philosophy, was excluded from the 2021 report due to a technicality but got a special tribute as it “once again provided an inspiring example for the world about how to combine health and happiness.”
This is a reasonable graphic presentation based on the six categories currently included.
But what if headline categories were to be expanded to include such additional metrics as yearlong variations in weather effects, desire to migrate, extent of population diversity, percentage of population above and below the poverty line, crime levels, and other social indicators, would the rankings still stand?
Individual Happiness Measurements
Going from a country aggregate to the individual requires different optics to be taken into account, some of which are embedded in the country analysis, but others which are specific to the personal circumstance.
Here there are expert differences of view as to what constitutes “happiness,” also referred to as “subjective well-being.”
While no one definition is acceptable to all, generally included in one form or another are the factors produced by the Happiness Alliance. It offers individuals a way to gauge their level of happiness by taking its survey online.
The Happiness Report Card 2023, based on the Happiness Alliance’s Happiness Index, provides a way to determine levels either individually or in the aggregate. All scores are on a scale of 0-100, with 100 being the best (“happiest”) score possible.
As one survey taker put it, one may well be “surprised to learn that the average Happiness Index score of happiness for youth is 57.5 out of 100 because youth is supposed to be one of the happiest times in life.”
The main Happiness Alliance survey categories are:
- Psychological Well-Being: optimism, sense of purpose and of accomplishment.
- Health: energy level and ability to perform everyday activities.
- Time Balance: enjoyment, feeling rushed, and sense of leisure.
- Community: sense of belonging, volunteerism, and sense of safety.
- Social Support: satisfaction with friends and family, feeling loved, and feeling lonely.
- Education, Arts, and Culture: access to cultural and educational events and diversity.
- Environment: access to nature, pollution, and conservation.
- Governance: trust in government, sense of corruption, and competency.
- Material Well-Being: financial security and meeting basic needs.
- Work: compensation, autonomy, and productivity.
Their website states that:
“At the end of the survey, you will get your results. A low score does not necessarily mean that you are unhappy, but it may indicate that there is some imbalance in your life. You can use the Personal Happiness Roadmaps as inspiration for making changes in your life for your happiness. Not all the suggestions will be right for you, but they may get you thinking in new ways about your happiness.”
Happiness is in the eye of the beholder
Countries, much like individuals, are in continuous change, and over time there are likely to be better and worse periods.
Some changes will be beyond control and require adjustments that dramatically affect perceptions of “happiness.” And there is no one definition or single theory, much like what the U.S. Supreme Court wrote on a very different subject, “You know it when you live it.”
Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed here by the authors are their own, not those of Impakter.com — In the Featured Photo: Two smiling piggy banks. Featured Photo Credit: Alexas Fotos.